COSMIC Study
Casey Jones

Casey Jones

Casey Jones attended the University of Colorado Boulder, where he learned a lot outside of the classroom.

A Look at CU Boulder’s COSMIC Study.

Ongoing Observational Research in Boulder Seeks to Expand Cannabis Understanding For All

CU Boulder Researchers of the COSMIC Study, Cannabis Observational Study on Mood, Inflammation, & Cognition, are seeking participants and answers. The Mary Jane Experience is here to lay it all on the table and ask the tough questions: where do we sign up?    

The study aims to expand what is a rather narrow current scientific understanding of cannabinoids. The current lack of research stems from two sides, federal regulation and time. All existing federally approved cannabis research has been, well, limited. Restrictions dictate exclusively testing cannabis produced at a federally funded facility in Mississippi. This federally approved cannabis-for-research is only available in a few strains, in flower form, and is difficult for even researchers to access. To compare and highlight how this restricts research results many strains commonly available in Colorado dispensaries are 3-5 times more potent than those previously tested in a laboratory. Not to mention most research has all but ignored cannabinoids other than THC. Therefore, no existing research could result in broadly useful information regarding the type of cannabis nor user experience.

Time is the cannabis researcher’s second limitation. The cannabis industry has undoubtedly exploded. But, if you didn’t already know, scientific research, although potentially explosive in its findings, moves at a somewhat glacial pace for so so many reasons! Research simply can’t keep up. Since Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana use in addition to medical marijuana, more than 800 dispensaries have been licensed by the state as of July 2015.  Odds are these dispensaries are not selling the restricted and elusive federally approved flower from Mississippi. What good is research if it’s testing a limited amount of product which is unavailable to cannabis users when the study is meant to benefit those same people?

Expanding Cannabis Research

CU Boulder researchers have designed their study to try and answer more questions, about more products, for more people. COSMIC and other studies cite a lack of current evidence regarding effectiveness, dosage, methods, and side effects of most strains of marijuana on the market. To investigate a large variety of cannabinoid products and effects the study seeks to observe each participant’s personal use inside a mobile research unit. The space is designed to mimic “a natural smoking environment (e.g., at home).” The expectation is that this environment will support the most realistically reported outcomes. Federal law requires cannabis studies to be observational only. In this case, the subject will choose the product they consume, how much, and in what way they consume it. All “results” are self-reported and therefore entirely subjective.

Still, Questions Remain

The researchers with COSMIC and CU Boulder’s other cannabis-related research projects including CHROME (Cancer and Health: Research on Marijuana Edibles) and PRISM (Pain Research: Innovative Strategies with Marijuana) have, thus far, done a great job at sharing their motivations and plans with the public and potential research participants. The questions that I’m left with mostly revolve around interpretation of results and what will be done with the resulting observations. Throughout the cannabis community, it is mostly understood that the study’s three points of interest, dosage, efficacy, and side effects, are definitively individual. Only experience and essentially self-testing can determine these for each consumer. Does the study expect some standardization of experience to be developed? One that could be translated into medical and other usage recommendations? Isn’t the idea that standardization is possible reductionist and generalistic to a fault? Possibly. But this is not uncommon in western medicine wherein care models are not altogether catered to the individual but rather for the masses. Standardization of practice, methodology, and treatment protocols are required by western medical culture if not by law. I will say, standardization itself is not necessarily an enemy of the cannabis user. If you have listened to The Mary Jane Experience’s podcast interviews with Skip of MarQaha Boulder and Chris from The Magical Butter Maker, you’ll remember they both stressed the benefits relating to the ability to produce a product with the same potency, etc. many times over. Especially in the case of a therapeutic cannabis user, for example, someone consuming cannabis to help control pain associated with chemotherapy treatments. A cancer patient is most likely fatigued, experiencing some associated pain, and will find it best to know exactly how much of what product to take without much thought or effort to get the desired pain relief. It’s clear that standardization on the individual level can be desirable. I do think researchers should ask if potentially blanketed standardization of dosage, etc. could be harmful to the cannabis community as we know it.

I am cautiously optimistic regarding standardization as long as standardization doesn’t mean minimization of access. In clinical practice, finding the most appropriate prescription for any given patient is in the best interest of that patient. The prescription of any federally regulated drug is done so with care and consideration on an individual basis. Practitioners want to avoid giving an inappropriate drug, an ineffective drug, a drug that could adversely interact with another medication the patient is taking, a drug the patient could have an allergic reaction to, etc. In their attempt to address a vast array of potential symptoms and uses from PTSD-related depression and anxiety to Cancer-related pain, I hope cannabis researchers can translate their results into as many possible recommendations for therapies, dosages, strains, methods, and more. Any aggressive standardization leading to minimizing access would be a disservice to the community. As COSMIC researchers acknowledged of cannabis consumption, and unlike most prescription drugs, one person’s preferred “effect” could be another’s perceived “side effect.” Therefore, any clinical standardization of cannabinoids perhaps should not look the same as the considerations acknowledged for the standardization of other prescription drugs. As long as these nuances remain a consideration throughout future cannabis research as it relates to clinical applications, restrictions may be kept to a minimum and potential therapeutic recommendations made as broad as the individual experience.   

Results and Beyond

After the study size is large enough to produce statistically significant results, COSMIC researchers say they will be shared on the research study’s webpage: https://www.colorado.edu/changelab/cosmic They hope the public, not only research participants, will compare their own experiences and personal knowledge with the study’s average answers. We, at The Mary Jane Experience, are looking forward to the scientific community and the cannabis community becoming mutually beneficial partners in research like this!

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